Summertime date night in Echo Park

Low on cash but want to impress that special someone? I highly recommend grabbing a few tacos and drink from a taco truck in Echo Park (my truck of choice is Tacos Arizas on Sunset and Logan Street). With food in hand, walk down Logan to Echo Park.

Top: Echo Park at dusk. Bottom: Tacos from Tacos Arizas.

Top: Echo Park at dusk. Bottom: Tacos from Tacos Arizas.

Ever since the Echo Park reopened in June, there been new energy and life in the neighborhood. More people having picnics, kids on bikes – and the smell of delicious BBQ subtly making it’s way through the air. Plus, there are some great benches to sit and enjoy each other’s company. Happy date night!

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Taco Tuesday: Sergio’s Tacos

I love tacos. It’s one of the best things you can eat in Los Angeles. The best tacos are simple – a quality tortilla, meat, and cilantro/onions with some hot sauce. My friends know I’m always on the look out for a good taco and recently my friend Ruth gave me an awesome recommendation. She said it was a little taco stand outside of LA in the city of Commerce called Sergio’s Tacos.

It’s close to the Citadel Outlets but you take a turn on Atlantic Blvd. and you see the small stand on a corner. The parking lot only fits a handful of cars and when you walk in there are just a few tables. But let me tell you, this place is definitely on my list for best tacos! Check out my order for a carne asada and a carnitas taco.

The tacos are made to order. The tortillas are perfect. Really. At first bite, it’s warm with a slight toasty edge then the savory marinated carne asada meat and carntitas were tender – not chewy and dry which can happen at some taco stands that reheat the meat. What tops it off is the hot sauce. I prefer the green (tomatillo) sauce but if you like hot, ask for the red sauce which is their house sauce. Here’s a closer look at my carne asada taco in the foreground and my carnitas taco in the background.

So if you’re headed to the outlets or traveling down the 5 freeway, take a detour off Atlantic Blvd. to Sergio’s and let me know what you think of their tacos. Also, I’m always open to your taco recommendations!

Sergio’s Tacos
2216 S Atlantic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90040

Slow cooked shredded beef tacos [RECIPE]

I had a gathering at my place not too long ago. I wanted to make some food – something easy for a large group. I remembered shredded beef tacos my friend Marc made years ago in a slow cooker. I emailed him and he gave me the recipe. It was SO simple I had to read it over again to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.

Best part about a slow cooker is that you throw all the ingredients in and wait about 6 to 8 hours, and your dish is ready. Take a look at my tacos:

I bought the tortillas from Huicho’s Bakery, a local bakery and tortilleria in Los Angeles. I got there right when the fresh corn tortillas had just been packed. When the cashier handed me two bags, they were both warm and I put my nose to the bag and the smell of maize seeped out – I inhaled. If you haven’t already, I highly suggest you stop by  your local tortilleria and pick up a bag of fresh tortillas – it’s not expensive and the taste is 10 times better than the prepackaged stuff you buy at the grocery store that’s been shipped from miles away. Plus, you can support your local business!

Here’s the checklist of things you need for shredded beef tacos.

  1. Tortillas
  2. Cilantro and onions – I bought some cilantro and onions from the farmers market and chipped them up and put it in a bowl as a side for the tacos.
  3. Limes – I cut up lime wedges for folks to squeeze on their tacos.
  4. Mexican cheese – I bought queso fresco and crumbled them up so people could top off their tacos.
  5. Hot sauce – Tapatio is my hot sauce of choice.
  6. Shredded beef (see below for recipe)

The shredded beef is a simple recipe. I didn’t really use measuring spoons – just seasoned to the eye and didn’t over do it. But hopefully you’ll be able to find the right combination for yourself and experiment.

  1. Meat – Buy a large chuck roast and trim the fat. Then cut the meet into 4 pieces and put into the slow cooker.
  2. Garlic – Add 5-6 cloves of garlic (I put in 8 because I’m a big fan of garlic).
  3. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Beef bouillon – dissolve it in 1/2 cup of water and drizzle it over the meat.
  5. (optional) My friend Marc also recommends serrano peppers too if you like it spicy. I didn’t add the peppers for my taco.

Set the slow cooker to LOW and leave it in for about 6 -8 hours. Mine were done a little after 6 hours. You know it’s ready when the meat is tender and falls off each other. Do not set it to high or leave it in too long because the mean will get tough and rubbery.

If you want a shredded beef taco recipe with more direction and recipe I found this one, this one, and this one.

This was a simple recipe that everyone enjoyed and it was easy to prepare. Looking forward for my next taco night!

Side dish becomes spotlight dish at Tinga Buena

The tacos I crave are simple… carne asada, cilantro, onions on a corn tortilla and some salsa verde. It’s hardly what Tinga Buena in Los Angeles serves up. But you know what? It’s fine with me because the complex flavors and unique sides gave my palette an adventure.

Located on La Brea Blvd., this understated taco shop has a contemporary vibe on the inside. Look up and you’ll see a mega-size outlet where dozens of cables hang above the long communal table. This place isn’t pretentious at all and tries to embrace a sustainable restaurant model by recycling and using biodegradable products. However, I’m curious where the banana leaf plates come from because if it’s imported, that’s not sustainable. If you know, please comment. OK, back to the food…

Here’s a rundown of what my friends and I consumed…

This is the Flat Iron Steak Taco. The green dollop is a tomato avocado relish that has a refreshing flavor and cools down the heat of the salsa. The meat was well marinated and the savory flavor worked well with the sweetness of the onions.

This is the 48 Short Rib taco. I had high expectations but it didn’t quite live up to them. I liked the texture and the look of this taco. Look at it. Don’t you want to eat it? But I admit I wanted a little bit more salt. The flavors kind of dulled after the third bite. I added some hot sauce which helped but I wanted salt, not spice.

But I think my favorite taco was my friend’s Papas Bravas taco. The potatoes were well season and cooked perfectly and topped with poblano rajas (poblano chiles, onion, garlic, and herbs).

You would think the tacos were the highlight of this meal but for me, it was the side dishes. Here’s the Arroz Con Crema – it’s a creamy rice with salsa verde and pickled onions on top. It’s the best when you take a bite of this after a salsa induced tacos. A bite of this will cool your palette for the next fiery taco.

This is the Elote Especial, a grilled sweet corn topped with crema, lime, and poblano purée. I admit I was tempted to get a second order right after I took my first bite. This is fresh corn off the cob and the flavors of each ingredient come through. It’s light and flavorful – the lime really highlights the freshness of this dish. This was my favorite dish of the night by far.

My final thoughts on Tinga Buena… I’d go back for the vegetarian menu and leave the meat off. The veggie dishes had more flavor and surprises. Here’s their menu if you want to check it out.

Checking in at Border Grill – Downtown LA

I had some out-of-town guests who were on a tight schedule to see me. They said they would be in downtown LA in a couple hours and that they were hungry – they wanted something very Los Angeles. I was racking my brain! Then I asked “Have you had tacos?” They said no and that they would love tacos but there would have to be a vegetarian option. I knew exactly where I wanted to take them.

Since my day job is in downtown, I knew I didn’t have to go far for some authentic Southern Californian cuisine because Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger’s modern Mexican restaurant was just down the street. No, I’m not talking about Ciudad – that closed in the summer of 2010. I’m talking about Border Grill (which took Ciudad’s place).

This isn’t the first Border Grill to open but it was my first time at a Border Grill restaurant. I haven’t even tried their food truck. When we got there, the place was pretty loud because it was during Happy Hour. I ordered up some roasted lamb tacos… check out how moist the lamb was and the fresh manchego.

One of my friends ordered the vegetarian tacos. I think her tacos were better than my order. The vegetarian options were filling and flavorful. Here’s the potato taco…

Also, here’s the other vegetarian taco that is a poblano corn taco with guacamole and corn.

We couldn’t finish our meal without a proper dessert. Here’s a complimentary dish that the manager gave to our table. It was a great surprise to end the meal. Below you’ll see the Rainforest Macadamia Brownie which had the perfect balance of textures and flavors.

I’m looking forward to going back and checking out their mojito and margaritas for happy hour. Perhaps I’ll follow this up with another entry on their libations. I’ll keep you posted!

Ladies and gentleman, we are floating in space… with fish tacos!

I feel like I’ve become the unofficial ambassador to Los Angeles since I moved back in November. I’ve had the chance to show my out of town friends the reasons why I love this city s much. On Wednesday, I had the chance to take a friend from New Zealand and Orange County (yes, it’s just 1 hour south of LA but sometimes it’s feels like a whole new world) to  downtown LA and show them a view from above.

To start off this tour, we stopped in Little Tokyo to get some fish tacos at Senor Fish. You’re thinking that we should have gotten Japanese food but the thing is Senor Fish is a Mexican fish taco staple in the area. They are known for their fish tacos and seafood burritos. I admit, they didn’t disappoint. Take a peak…

Above, you’ll see my shrimp taco and fish taco. The portions are big and the seafood is battered and fresh. I should have only ordered these two tacos but I couldn’t help myself when I saw the sopes on the menu… I had to order one. Below, you’ll see my carne asada sopes.

I admit the sope wasn’t as impressive as the tacos. I think it needed more flavor. In retrospect, I should have ordered another fish taco! Senor Fish is also known for their fish (or any seafood type) burritos. Here’s my friend’s regular fish taco.

Next time I go back, I’ll definitely have to order one of the burritos.

After the food binging, I took my friends on a walk through downtown Los Angeles. More specifically, I showed them some key sights on where 500 Days of Summer was filmed – I’m a big sucker for that movie. Then took them on a short drive to Griffith Observatory.

The sun had just gone down and that meant a lot of stargazers were on their way to the observatory too. Full disclosure: This was my first trip to the observatory. I’ve recommended out-of-towners to go to the observatory through the years but I had never gone. Why? When I tried to go, it was closed… but not this time!

Check out some of the amazing sights I saw after 8:00pm/PST.

Do you see those tall buildings towards the center? That’s the downtown Los Angeles skyline. I felt like there were stars in the sky as well as stars down below.

One of the things that struck me from high above Los Angeles was how quiet it was. Yes, you could hear some motorcycles but for the most part, it was peaceful.

I’m looking forward to going back to the observatory to see the planetarium show. This time around, I was able to get into the big telescope (with a 12 inch Zeiss lens!) to see the moon but that meant I didn’t have the time to see the films… it’s always good to leave something for the next trip. Tip: They open the big telescope at 7pm in the summer. Line up early because they close the doors to the telescope at 9:30 and if you’re not inside… better luck next time.

I love playing tourist in my own city! What’s the tourist spot in your city that you’ve never been to?

Bay area eats!

I’m sure you guessed with my last entry that I was out of town.

The past week I was at a multi-media workshop at Berkeley’s Knight Digital Media Center. Our sessions were super intense – we were working from 9am to about 9pm. I learned a lot and can’t wait to put into action all the skills I learned. Don’t worry, it wasn’t all work and no play. Towards the end of my trip I had a chance to explore.

First up, my friend took me to his favorite taco truck in Oakland. He thinks it’s the one that Anthony Bourdain might have gone to during his Bay area episode. I’m not sure if this was the one but I can definitely tell you it was really good.

The tacos were slightly smaller than the Los Angeles tacos but it was really flavorful. My friend talked me into getting the al pastor, pollo, asada, and carnitas… yes, FOUR tacos. And yes, they were all very good. Afterwards, we went to Cafe Van Kleef to meet some friends for drinks and I had the tastiest greyhound. I am not a fan of grapfruit and this place made me craving more. Well done.

On my last day, I went to the Berkeley Farmers Market. It’s not as big as the farmers’ market in San Francisco but it has a lot of character and I discovered some awesome bakeries.

One of the reasons I love this time of year is because of all the fruits in seasons… strawberries, cherries, apricots… My senses were going on overdrive just walking around and smelling all the sweet fruits tasting all the flavors.

Walking around, I got a little hungry and found this bakery booth. The first thing that caught my eyes was this shortbread sandwich. The baker said the cookie cutout is an antique she found.

What I ended up getting was this salted praline brownie. I felt a bit guilty eating it because it was basically my breakfast that day. There was a nice salty/sweet aftertaste after the first sugur rush bite.

I washed that brownie down with this homemade yogurt with blueberries. It was super creamy so I don’t think it was too healthy but it was worth it. The best part is that the yogurt stand charged a fee for their reusable containers.

I can’t wait to hit up the LA farmer’s market for some tasty treats. Perhaps I’ll make another tart!